On Thursday, the Golden Knights welcome the Montreal Canadiens to Las Vegas for the final game in what's been a messy first half of the season for the club.

Vegas is first in the Pacific Division with a 23-15-2 record. However, the Knights, a preseason Stanley Cup favorite, rank 13th overall in points percentage. The team has been hammered by misfortune, already losing roughly 250 man-games to injury or illness. Meanwhile, superstar Jack Eichel, acquired from Buffalo in November, has yet to play a single shift for his new club after undergoing his long-awaited surgery.

All of this has forced head coach Pete DeBoer to project Vegas' future.

"We've played well enough without everybody in the lineup that I am optimistic that if we can get to full health here, we have the ability to really find another level," DeBoer said Tuesday in a phone interview with theScore.

DeBoer, 53, has been behind an NHL bench every season since 2008-09. He started in Florida, moved on to New Jersey and then San Jose, and then landed in Vegas two years ago. Only Colorado and Carolina own a better regular-season points percentage than the Knights in the DeBoer era, though both coach and franchise remain locked in on that elusive first Stanley Cup.

We caught up with DeBoer to discuss the state of the Knights and more.

 

You're atop the Pacific Division with a plus-19 goal differential, but this season has been a journey thanks to a long list of injuries and COVID-19 absences. How would you evaluate your club's performance at what's roughly the halfway point of the season?

I'd use the word "resilient" in my evaluation. And I would say I still don't have a good handle on how good we are because of that. I've never had a year where we've had this many man-games lost to injuries. When you throw COVID-19 into it, which has hit us hard, (it hasn't been easy). And we haven't had good timing with it, either. It's been two or three guys every week instead of a large group where you get everybody back (at the same time). It's been a short lineup every night, and I think we've been resilient in our approach and in our ability to survive it.

When I look around the league, there are some teams that, in similar situations, have been buried. I'm looking forward to getting the injuries and COVID in the rearview mirror and seeing down the stretch what our team really has the opportunity to be.

 

What would you like to see your team improve upon in the second half?

Off the top of my head, we've got to defend better, from our goaltender (starter Robin Lehner has a .904 save percentage) through our team structure. That's what wins in the playoffs. That's what's always been foundational for us. We have to defend our net better. I think special teams can always use improvement. Those would probably be the two areas that jump out to me.

 

Take me back to November, when general manager Kelly McCrimmon acquired Jack Eichel. How did it all go down from your perspective? What kinds of thoughts ran through your head in those early moments?

I was looped in right from the beginning of the talks about Jack. A deal like that (involving three players, including a superstar, and three draft picks) doesn't get put together overnight.